“Doctor, I’ve sorted out your accounts, as far anyone can… you are really sloppy about keeping receipts. It’s a good job you’re not registered for VAT! Anyway, I’ve done your expenses for the last three trips we made. And my salary. I checked the bank. It went in ok, even though you paid it through a bank on the planet Felspar Dios. Also, I’ve done a petty cash tin with Earth currency. You can’t keep trying to buy milk with Alsetian Cobals.”

The Doctor wasn’t listening to her. He had a habit of tuning out when he was working, but he wasn’t working right now. He was just standing there, staring at the console with a devastated expression in his eyes and his lips pressed together as if he was forcing himself to be impassive. Except the eyes gave it away. Something was upsetting him.

“Ok, never mind petty cash. Doctor, what’s the matter?” She put her hand on his arm and he jumped as if her touch was electrified.

“Donna!” He looked around her and spoke her name with false brightness. “I’m… Donna… hi… what… I mean…was there something you wanted?”

“You on the same wavelength as me,” she answered. “What’s up? And don’t tell me nothing. You’re totally spaced out. What’s happened?”

“That,” he said, pointing to a small button on the console. A green LED light on it was flashing on and off.

“Um…” The flashing light certainly seemed to indicate something important. But she couldn’t see what.

“It’s a special signal,” The Doctor explained. “It’s supposed to light up when there’s a communication from my own planet… from the Time Lords.”

“So… ET can phone home after all. What’s so bad about that?”

“It shouldn’t be happening. That button shouldn’t light up. They can’t communicate with me. They don’t exist. They’re all dead. My planet is dead. This can’t be happening. There’s nobody left to send a signal to my TARDIS.”

“Well… somebody can,” Donna pointed out logically. “So… aren’t you going to find out what it’s all about?”

“It’s an error. The button is malfunctioning. That’s all. It can’t be them.”

“Then why are you so freaked out about it?”

“It can’t be from Gallifrey.”

“It’s a button. You’re supposed to push it, right?” Donna reached out her hand and pushed the button in before The Doctor could stop her.

“Donna!” he yelled. “What did you do? No. you can’t. You can’t.”

“I just did. Nothing happened. You’re right. It’s just a loose wire in the console.”

The TARDIS lurched suddenly. The Doctor fell backwards, landing awkwardly between the console and the battered leather command chair. Donna managed to grab a handhold on the console and kept her feet more or less. As the TARDIS movement settled down into something less turbulent The Doctor dragged himself up and stared at the viewscreen. They were in the time vortex, but instead of being red for travelling into the future or blue for travelling back in time, it was wavering between the two, and a green colour that was neither one thing nor the other.

“What?” he explained. “What… What… is… no… no…no. It can’t. It’s not possible. The time lock would have to be broken. It isn’t possible.”

He ran around the console, pressing buttons, murmuring over and over again that it wasn’t possible and it couldn’t be happening. He seemed very out of character. Donna considered that she had only known him a month, and that she probably didn’t know him well enough to say what was in or out of character for him. But what she did know of him was optimistic and enthusiastic. Standing there complaining that something wasn’t possible wasn’t like him.

“We’re there, wherever there is,” she said after a while.

“We can’t be,” The Doctor protested, still unable to accept what was happening.

“Well… what’s THAT then?” Donna pointed to the screen that he finally brought himself to look.

“It can’t be…”

“Will you stop saying that and tell me what’s going on around here,” Donna demanded. “What is that thing?”

The Doctor stared at the huge space station that put Donna in mind of a family size thick crust pizza mounted on a bicycle wheel and painted black and silver. It revolved around its central hub slowly, so that different parts of it glinted in the reflected light of a star in the far distance.

“It’s… Gallifreyan. It’s from Gallifrey. It’s… a justice satellite. It’s a sort of court and prison in one… on a mobile space station with maximum security. It was built for conducting very serious trials. We materialised beside it because to get in requires an extra level of security codes… They’ll be transmitted soon… and then…”

“Then…. Why did they bring you to it?”

The Doctor sighed and decided that, as usual with Donna, the truth was best.

“They probably want to blame me for something. I’ve been put on trial by them twice before…. I’m their favourite scapegoat for the ills of our society.”

“Trial? What for?” Donna looked at him in alarm “You mean… you’re a criminal… you… Oh my God! All this time I’ve been travelling with you… you’re a wanted criminal… on the run…”

“Not a criminal,” The Doctor insisted. “More… like… you know… a political dissident. Like… a Russian defector. I disagreed with my government. I took my TARDIS and went into exile…. Donna, I swear to you…that’s all I’ve done. I’m not a criminal. I’m not dangerous. Please believe me.”

She looked at him carefully and said nothing for a long time.

“Political dissident…”


“That’s sort… kind of… that’s ok, I suppose. So what are you going to do? Run away again?”

“Can’t. They’d never let me go. If I tried, they’d pull the TARDIS in, even if they pulled it apart to get to me. I have to give myself up, face whatever they’ve got against me this time.”

As he spoke, the viewscreen flashed with a series of letters, numbers and some other symbols that Donna didn’t recognise.

“The security code. It’s automatically feeding into Navigation. We’ll materialise inside, soon.”

“Doctor… what about… what about me?” She didn’t mean to sound selfish, but she was scared. She couldn’t help it. “If I’m with you… will they think I’m your accomplice or something?”

“They won’t harm you,” he assured her. “The worst they will do is send you back to Earth with your memory of meeting me wiped from your mind.”

“They… what!”

The Doctor looked at the navigation monitor. The TARDIS was being guided remotely to a specific place in the justice centre. Most likely the secure compound, he thought grimly.

When the TARDIS came to a stop it seemed as if he was right. A phalanx of Chancellery Guard soldiers stood outside. As usual they presented a visual paradox in their ridiculous looking toy soldier red uniforms and gold cloaks, but carrying deadly disrupter guns for anyone stupid enough to think they were just ornamental. The Doctor braced himself to be arrested as soon as he stepped out of the TARDIS, expecting to be interrogated and possibly tortured very soon.

“Don’t be scared,” he said to Donna. “They won’t hurt you.”

“I don’t want them to hurt you, either,” she answered. “Doctor… are you sure we can’t just fly away again?”

He didn’t answer that. He just took her hand in his and stepped towards the door. He reached to open it and walked out of the TARDIS.

He was ready to have guns pointed at him. He wasn’t ready to see the Chancellery Guards immediately stand to attention with an audible click of heels and their arms presented. The Doctor was puzzled.

“Oh!” Donna exclaimed. “Doctor… they’re not… they’re… an honour guard… to meet you. Like… My granddad… he was at an Arnheim commemoration last year, and the soldiers greeted all the veterans and their families like that.”

“But…” The Doctor was lost for words. Donna took his arm and stepped forward. He had no choice but to move with her. But she was right. The Guards were there to welcome him with full honours, not to arrest him.

Well, it made a refreshing change.

“Doctor!” As he reached the end of the line a Time Lord in the colourful robes of office stepped forward. A Cardinal, no less, The Doctor noted. And he bowed low to him.

“Lord Arcalia,” The Doctor bowed his head slightly. Donna, who was known to be slow on the uptake, nevertheless worked out that The Doctor had just pulled rank on the other man.

Lord Arcalia didn’t show any sign of being put in his place.

“You have regenerated again since I last spoke with you.”

“Yes,” The Doctor answered. “I think… I was in my eighth life then. There was some trouble with the Matrix. You needed me, as a former president, to help recalibrate the symbiotic interface and re-establish the equilibrium of the Amplified Panatropic Computer net.”

“Which you did admirably,” Arcalian remarked. “If a little unorthodoxly.”

“The Matrix never needed recalibrating before. There isn’t an orthodox method.”

“Perhaps so. But….”

“Lord Arcalia, you didn’t send a recall signal to me over time and space to talk about old times? What’s this all about?”

“Your skills are required,” Arcalia answered. “You are still a notarised member of the Gallifreyan Bar. And as such you are always liable to be called up to do your duty.”

“You need a lawyer?”

“We need a High Inquisitor,” Lord Arcalia replied. “You have the qualifications.”



“Let me get this straight,” Donna said as she wandered around the Inquisitors plush office, opening cupboards and drawers and generally being nosy. “They brought you here to be the judge at a trial?”


“And you really are qualified?”

“On paper, anyway. I never really used my law degree. The Doctorate in Thermodynamics was more interesting. Still, I don’t think it’s too difficult. Mostly I just sit and listen. The worst part is wearing the regalia. I don’t have the shoulders for it these days. Used to. I was broader in the chest in my earlier life. I could really wear a High Gallifreyan collar.”

“Earlier life?” Donna recalled part of the conversation with Arcalia and put it with that comment. “What is THAT all about?”

“Something I promise I will explain another time,” The Doctor answered. “Preferably in the lounge of a cosy bar with a couple of drinks and some ambient music. Because there’s a fair chance then that you won’t freak out. But right now…” He sighed. “Actually, it’s a lot more serious than wearing a darned uncomfortable costume. We shouldn’t be here. It’s impossible.”

“Don’t start that again.”

“But it is. Even before The Time War it was not permitted to travel back in Gallifrey’s time. The war itself… when the planet was destroyed… it triggered a Time Lock, making it impossible to go back to before… but we have.”

“So… isn’t that good? You’re here… among your own kind… instead of being alone.”

Donna’s brain was working overtime taking it all in. She had guessed from things he had said since she met him that something bad had happened to his world. That’s why he was the only person at the New Sydney Opera House who understood the language the opera was in. She thought she understood what he was saying about not being able to get back to before it was destroyed. But obviously they had. And she didn’t quite get why that was such a problem to him.

“We’re a telepathic race,” he said. “Do you have any idea… what a strain it is… putting up mental walls… to hide what I know… that everyone I meet here… people I know… whether I like them or not… I know that they’re all going to die, horribly, in…” He looked around the desk he was sitting on. He found something that looked like a perpetual calendar, except there were a lot more numbers on it than Donna had ever seen. “In less than twenty years. That’s how close the Time War is. And I have to hide that from them all. This room is shielded with lead in the walls. It cuts out all telepathic signals from outside. And the courtroom itself won’t be so bad. There are always psychic dampeners to prevent the accused playing mind games with the jury. But everywhere else…”

“I suppose… well, you can’t tell them, can you? Warn them?”

“If I did… they’d probably prosecute me for breaking the Laws of Time,” he answered grimly. But that’s not the point. The point is…”

His point was forgotten as Lord Arcalia returned along with two men in dark robes who looked like court officials. They were carrying a heavy folded cloth and an elaborate collar.

“It is time for Your Excellency to be robed,” Arcalia said. “The alien female…”

“Oi, who are you calling alien,” Donna protested.

“This is Miss Donna Noble of Earth,” The Doctor told him. “And she will be respected by all concerned or you’ll know about it from me.”

“My apologies, madam,” Arcalia said with a courteous nod to Donna. May I suggest that you come along to the ante-room, however. It would not be appropriate for you to be in here while the robing takes place.”

“Escort Miss Noble to the courtroom and provide her with a comfortable chair and table, and writing implements – old fashioned ballpoint pen and paper. She will be my independent court reporter. How many words per minute shorthand, Donna?”

“Enough,” she replied. “I won’t let you down, Doctor.”

One of the dark robed men showed her out of the room. Arcalia watched as The Doctor unfolded the Inquisitor’s robes and examined them critically.

“You are even more devious than I remember. It is well known that you do not trust the Electronic recording of court proceedings.”

“Electronic recordings can be manipulated. Even the Matrix is pliable in the hands of a confirmed liar. Remember the last time we were on this station. When it was my life on the line.”

“I recall,” Arcalia said quietly. “So you brought a stranger, a non-Gallifreyan, separate from our customs, and incorruptible, to produce a written account that cannot be disputed.”

“That’s correct,” The Doctor answered. “There will be no shenanigans in my court.”

“Indeed,” Arcalia turned over the unusual word thoughtfully. “Absolutely no…. Shenanigans.”

“These robes…” The Doctor said, holding them up critically. “They aren’t the ones the previous inquisitor wore are they? Only she was a woman… a very BIG woman at that.”

Donna was enjoying the respect she was getting from the court officials. Word seemed to have gone ahead of her that she was there by special appointment of the Inquisitor himself. She was given a very comfortable leather chair that swivelled smoothly and a big, wide table. Paper and a selection of pens were provided, as well as a crystal jug full of ice cold water and a drinking glass. She seated herself and chose the most comfortable pen to take dictation for the length of a court session. She had never done a verbatim report before, although she had sat in plenty of business meetings where she was expected to get all the important details down on the spot while executives rattled on. She figured she was up to the job. She wasn’t sure if The Doctor genuinely needed a court reporter or not. This all looked very high tech and her shorthand seemed superfluous. Just in case it was part of his plan, though, she got ready to do her absolute best.

Around her the court filled up. There was a gallery of what she presumed were just ordinary Gallifreyan people come to have a look at what was going on. There were lawyers in black outfits with strange collars. They carried briefcases that opened up into mini computers containing all their case notes. There were guards and bailiffs, lots of them. Security was an issue.

There were two places not yet filled. One was obviously for the prisoner. It was a box that looked like wood at a glance, but if you looked closer that was just a patina on strong, probably unbreakable metal. There were bars in front of the seat where the prisoner would go. She wondered what sort of prisoner was going to be tried. Somebody really evil for this much effort, she thought. And it was The Doctor’s job to make sure they got what they deserved.

His seat was the other empty one, of course. It was a high one, the entrance from the Inquisitor’s Chamber hidden behind a screen of the same metal that looked like wood. Behind the elaborate seat was a huge symbol. Donna had never been in a court before. But she watched plenty of TV crime dramas. In the British ones, there would be a Royal Crest there with the lion and unicorn around a shield. In the American ones, the symbol of the US justice system with the bald eagle with its wings spread inside a circle.

The equivalent symbol for Gallifreyan courts was a huge gold circle with a complicated pattern inside. It looked something like a figure of eight, but with swirling extra bits. She looked at it for a while, trying to see if the pattern was all one single line or overlapping bits but it made her eyes water.

There were raised voices all around and then the bailiff called for silence. Donna watched as the prisoner was brought through a hidden entrance into the dock. She was surprised to see that it was a woman. She was obviously the only one who WAS surprised. Everyone else clearly knew what to expect.

She looked at the woman carefully. She was in her late forties, perhaps. Maybe more with some good plastic surgery. That was Donna’s first guess. She looked like the femme fatale from one of those American glamour soaps of the 1980s.

Then she remembered that this wasn’t a Human woman. She was of The Doctor’s race and they aged differently, apparently. The Doctor was far older than the 35ish that he looked. This woman could well be hundreds of years old, too. So her actual appearance was probably deceptive.

The woman sat in the chair, to which she was chained. Two male guards stood either side of her and a female sat in a chair behind. The prisoner looked completely uninterested in her surroundings. She didn’t look worried about being on trial. She certainly wasn’t scared.

The woman looked around slowly at the assembled court, as if she was mentally noting the faces that looked back at her. Donna froze as her eyes stayed for several seconds on her. She tried to look away, but felt as if she couldn’t. The prisoner’s eyes were boring into her, trying to get through her skull and into her brain.

Then one of the guards nudged the prisoner on the shoulder and said something to her. Donna was relieved. The feeling was getting quite unpleasant. She remembered what The Doctor said about the court having psychic dampeners. This was why. The prisoner had been trying to hypnotise her.

“No chance, missy,” Donna thought. “Tried that. Chiswick Empire, last year. Me and Veena, one of those hypnotist shows. Veena doing backflips across the stage. But when he tried it on me, nothing. Mum said it was because I lacked imagination. Another chance to have a dig. But she was wrong. I was too strong for it. That’s what it was. And I’m not going to be taken in by any alien criminal type, either.”

Then the bailiff called for silence again and from all around, on the best sound system she had heard in a long time, a short burst of dramatic music was heard. Everyone stood. Donna did, too. The prisoner was the last to stand, hauled up by the two guards, her chains rattling ominously.

“This court recognises His Excellency, the High Inquisitor,” intoned the bailiff and Donna watched in amazement as The Doctor appeared dressed in an outfit that completely outdid the costumes worn by everyone else in the room. He was right about not having the shoulders for it, she noted. The stiff, high collar that rose up behind his head stuck out a bit either side. But he didn’t look ridiculous. He looked magnificent. The robe itself, deep red with gold embroidery all over the rich cloth, was like something from the Mikado.

And he looked as if he had worn that kind of fantastic stuff all his life. His head was held up proudly – although the collar probably made it impossible to do anything else. He had a solemn expression on his face. His eyes were the most impassive she had ever seen them. There was no humour, no sorrow, no emotion of any kind. He glanced her way once as he took his place. She thought there was the faintest flicker of an eyebrow, but that was all.

There was barely more of a reaction when he turned and looked at the prisoner in the dock, though Donna, watching him closely, noted a widening of his eyes and a very brief moment when his lips parted and he might have whispered a name. The shock registered for only seconds before he recovered his poise and sat down in the richly decorated High Inquisitor’s seat and the Chief Prosecutor stood. Donna wasn’t able to look at faces then. Her job as Court Reporter began from the moment the man started to speak.

“Your Excellency,” began the Prosecutor in a voice that Donna would have described as ‘oily’ if such remarks were required in a verbatim report. “We are here today to bear witness to the worst crimes committed by a Time Lord of Gallifrey since the dark days of the Cult of Morbeus itself. These are crimes that will shock and dismay. It scarcely seems conceivable that they could have been committed by one of our race…”

He went on for twenty minutes or more in that style. Donna faithfully recorded it, though if her opinion had been sought, it would have been that the prosecutor was full of hot air and could have said everything important in two sentences.

Basically, they were here to try a woman known as The Rani for what on Earth they called Crimes against Humanity, but on Gallifrey were called Extra-Species Abominations. It was extremely illegal for a Time Lord to conduct experiments using lesser species as guinea pigs. And Donna got the message from the Prosecutor’s long-winded opening remarks that ‘lesser species’ didn’t mean guinea pigs and rats, or even dogs or monkeys.

The Chief Prosecutor finally finished and Donna risked a glance around the court as he sat down and the Defence Counsel stood up. Judging by all the fidgeting in seats she wasn’t the only one who thought he was a right old windbag. The accused – The Rani – whatever kind of name that was – didn’t seem to have moved a muscle the whole time. She didn’t react in any way to the suggestions that she had committed really horrible acts of cruelty and depravity.

Donna quickly looked at The Doctor. The word to describe him was inscrutable. She really couldn’t make out what he was thinking at all. He might have been angry, amused, bored. His expression didn’t waver as he sat slightly to one side in the Inquisitor’s chair, his fingers pressed against each other and held just in front of his mouth as if he was deep in thought.

“Your Excellency…” The Defence Counsel began. “My client does not dispute the claims of the Honourable and Learned Chief Prosecutor. The Time Lord known as The Rani conducted the experiments which have been cited as acts of cruelty in the belief that she was furthering the cause of scientific understanding, for the glory of Gallifrey itself…”

Donna again scribbled furiously, filling page after page with Pitman shorthand. The Defence Counsel took nearly as long as the Prosecutor to make a case that everything The Rani had done to ‘lesser species’ was justified by the pursuit of knowledge that the Time Lords themselves, apparently, endorsed in their constitution, in their great academic institutions, and in their daily lives. Science was the cornerstone of Time Lord society. Learning was their raison d'être – and yes, Donna knew the Pitman for raison d'être, and thanks to the TARDIS and its translation programme, she also knew what the words meant.

She thought it was the most pathetic defence she had ever heard. Wasn’t there a Nazi who tried to use the same excuse for what he did to people in the camps? Donna couldn’t recall the name, but she was pretty sure that he didn’t get let off with that excuse. And she was certain The Doctor would not let this Rani off with it, either.

He didn’t. She almost forgot to keep writing when he rose from his seat and stopped the Defence Counsel mid-sentence.

“If that is your case for the defence, then we can save everyone a lot of time and effort and continue straight to sentencing right now,” The Doctor said. “The rights of what you and your client call ‘lesser species’ are protected under the Treaty of Lex, The Confederation of Rixos, and paragraphs 8b, 197c and 1534d section iv of the Shaddow Proclamation, all of which have been signed by representatives of the Time Lords and ratified by the High Council. Any experiments on sentient beings who have not signed a consent to take part in licensed medical trials is illegal under Gallifreyan law. Your defence is no defence at all, and I am surprised that you imagined you would get away with it.”

“Wow, Doctor! Impressive or what?” Donna thought. In the silence that followed his final words she again dared to look around the court. ‘Impressive or what?’ seemed to sum it up. She saw somebody at the back hastily scrolling through text on a computer screen. She wondered if he was looking up paragraphs 8b, 197c and 1534d of the Shaddow Proclamation, whatever that was. She was perfectly confident that The Doctor was going to be absolutely correct, down to the last ‘iv’.

“Your Excellency,” the Defence Counsel replied. “I bow to your far superior knowledge of statutes laid down by alien governments and federations, and our own government’s response to such statutes. I withdraw the defence of Scientific Necessity and instead, if you will permit, I shall submit a defence of insanity.”

The Doctor laughed sharply.

“Well, we can save even less time with that one. Everyone in the twelve galaxies knows that The Rani is insane. There are communities of peace loving gnomes who live in the crevices on the side of the great, unreachable cliffs of Moreh, who don’t even have a word for ‘insane’ in their own language, who know that The Rani is insane. Send her to Shada for the rest of her days and let’s all go home.”

The Doctor reached for his water glass and took a drink as he watched the Defence Counsel protest that the High Inquisitor himself was making a mockery of the Court of Inquisition. Donna expected some smart, funny reply from The Doctor.

But there wasn’t one. Instead there was a collective gasp from the court and a soft thud from the direction of the High Inquisitor’s Bench. Donna looked around and saw The Doctor slumped over, unconscious. She dropped her pen and ran towards him, but two Chancellery Guards stepped forward and restrained her.

“Madam,” one of them said, in a firm voice. “Nobody must touch the Inquisitor except…”

Donna watched as the bailiff approached the Bench and quickly examined The Doctor.

“He’s dead!” the bailiff exclaimed. “The High Inquisitor is dead.”

“No!” Donna screamed. “No, he can’t be. Let me see him. Let me…”

Lord Arcalia himself stepped forward and took her by the arm.

“Pick up your papers and come with me, madam,” he whispered. “Don’t look back. Especially don’t look at the prisoner.”

It was like being told not to think of an elephant. She automatically glanced towards the Dock and saw the malicious smile on the face of The Rani. Then the bailiff ordered the court to be cleared. The prisoner was pulled to her feet and taken away to wherever prisoners were kept, and Donna herself was ushered away through a concealed door behind the Chief Prosecutor’s seat.

The Doctor was dead, and The Rani thought that was funny.

She was the only one that did.